Thunder Over Louisville and Waterfront Park have grown together for 20 years


Posted on April 14, 2011 at 12:37 PM

Louisville, Ky. (WHAS11) - With the 20th Thunder Over Louisville three days away, the Derby Festival and Waterfront officials are crediting each other for 20 years of amazing growth.

You might call both Thunder Over Louisville and Waterfront Park "instant classics."

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For both being such a given here in Kentuckiana, they are both relatively new. The first thunder wasn't until 1990 and the waterfront park great lawn wasn't dedicated until 1998. But for both, the development has been perfect timing.

If you've just moved to Louisville in the last couple of years, you might assume it was always this way.

But when Thunder moved from Cardinal Stadium to downtown in 1991, crowds crammed on to the Belvedere and packed into the wharf.

That same year, the master plan for Waterfront Park was approved. It was to be an extreme makeover.

"You literally looked at sand and gravel companies, three separate scrap yards, two separate asphalt terminals, open huge storages of sand and gravel.

I mean it was as unpleasant a vision of the city you could ask for," says David Karem of Waterfront Park Development.

The expanse of dirt and industry is now the great lawn.

But as the Thunder crowds grew, Waterfront Park did too.

"It was like the city mothers and fathers got together and said where can we plan an area that will host the biggest event that occurs in the southeast United States each year and that's Thunder Over Louisville," says Mike Berry of Kentucky Derby Festival.

"No question about it. I think Thunder has been a big instrument in developing Waterfront Park. You get 200,000 people, 400,000 people down here seeing this park, and they're willing to come back and say it was a safe venue," says David Karem.

The middle section of Waterfront Park is almost complete.

But by Thunder 2010, Waterfront Park and Thunder will have grown together again.

"All of those things are exciting to us because it allows us to provide additional programming, additional opportunities and location for people to enjoy Thunder," says Mike Berry.

And even though Waterfront Park will have expanded by 13 acres in time for next year's Thunder Over Louisville, the Derby Festival says don't expect the fireworks show to shift that way as well because the centerpiece of the show will remain the Second Street Bridge, plus factor in lots of viewing from downtown buildings.